You get what you’re available for.
This advice, given to me by a wise elder years ago, has been echoing in my mind lately. Originally, I understood it in reference to meditative experiences or attempts to enter alternate reality, and it strikes me now that it has a much wider application.
Last night, I had the experience of handling a situation of conflict differently, and with surprising results. During dinner, my husband and son got into a disagreement over something that seemed trivial to me, but felt important to each of them. Neither was willing to come back together, to drop his stance and reconnect. By some miracle, I could see clearly how much they both yearned for connection, yet their pride wouldn’t allow it.
Cleaning up the kitchen afterwards, I uncharacteristically butted into their conflict, coaching each of them several times separately, especially encouraging our thirteen-year-old son, who was making a remarkable effort, despite being very tired from a weekend away and — let’s face it — thirteen. At one point, I found myself toe to toe with an angry husband. I could feel the ire coming off him in waves, face stony as he turned his anger and frustration on me. Still, I stood my ground, validating his emotion, encouraging him to set pride aside and connect, to give it one more try.
They did manage to connect, in a private moment out of my view. Each of them made just enough effort and peace reigned once again in our house. This situation was unusual in so many ways, from my daring to intervene, to their willingness to keep trying, however imperfectly. Our son was bravely articulate about what was bothering him, even though my husband was gruff and seemingly unapproachable.
How available am I in any given situation, particularly when conflict is present? How willing am I to be vulnerable, to try again when I’m hurt or angry? Or to step into wholly unknown territory, just to try something new? Do I listen to the inner voice, heed its guidance, act on its promptings?
Fortunately, there are practices that help me train to be that open, such as writing in a journal or meditation. So when the water is turbulent, my body can tap into the slower moving currents deep below, and counsel my head and heart to be available, to welcome grace.
I can be aware of what I’m bringing to a situation: clean intention or messy grasping, sincerity or sarcasm, strength or haste. It turns out that those I interact with really feel the difference. When I ride the current of grace and let it steer me, I find myself in surprising situations, in moments of clarity and freedom. I can be a bold peacemaker instead of retreating in fear.
During our Restorying retreats, we sometimes do an exercise that I learned from Charles Eisenstein. He calls it “reverse engineering;” we tend to call it “restorying practice.” In pairs, we deconstruct a recent incident of interpersonal conflict, when we weren’t acting our best self. The idea is to learn from it and to practice the same scene, to rehearse and embed an “actual” experience of a new behavior sourced in Interbeing, the knowledge that we are all interconnected.
It strikes me now that my experience as peacemaker in my family came from Interbeing, although I was not conscious of it at the time. It seems worthwhile also to study these moments of grace, not to analyze or pull them apart, but to acknowledge them, to give thanks, and to encourage their appearance in the future.